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The Three Broomsticks was at its usual level of Friday night, ear-splitting din.

Harry leaned his chair into the corner, trying to relax. There'd been something wrong with Ron and Hermione for the past two days. He couldn't put his finger on it, but they'd been acting weird as hell. Severus, as well, for that matter. But Severus, at least, had an excuse for his strange behaviour. After all he'd suffered, Harry didn't know how Severus had come through it as normal as he was. Well, normal for Severus, anyway.

"Too bad Severus couldn't make it tonight," Ron commented.

"Yeah," Harry said. "I think a night out would have done wonders for him."

"You must be terribly disappointed," Hermione said to him with that weird, sympathetic look she'd been giving him for the past few days, like he was made of fine china and about to shatter.

"He'll come around. You know how strong Severus is," Harry said.

"Yes, of course, he will," she agreed. "I just thought you might be upset about him cancelling on you like that."

There it was again, that peculiar undercurrent that he couldn't put his finger on. "Er, well, yes, of course it's disappointing, but I think we have to think of what's best for Severus."

"It's best that he be with you, Harry," Hermione said. "You've got to know that."

Okay, things had just slipped from weird straight into bizarre. Hermione was almost acting as if he and Severus were . . . married, or seriously involved. He opened his mouth to ask what the hell was going on, when a woman's voice from another table called, "Hermione?"

Hermione glanced over to where her name had been called, her face lighting up immediately.

"Lydia! Excuse me a minute, Harry." Hermione said, jumping to her feet, and making her graceful way through the crowded pub to the other side of the room where the gorgeous, blonde Slytherin woman whose child they'd visited in hospital years ago sat.

The two men at Lydia's table rose to their feet and headed towards where Ron and he were sitting.

"Hi, Terry, John," Ron greeted the pair when they reached them.

"Grab a chair," Harry invited, once the hand shaking was over.

Lydia's husband, Terry Forrester, was a tall, dark-haired man with piercing blue eyes. Her brother, John Penbroke, was a medium height, heavy set man with warm brown eyes and a friendly face. They were both good friends to Ron and him. Terry was a barrister and worked with Ron on a fairly regular basis, so they often talked shop when together.

"It's good to see you," John remarked. "It's been forever."

"Yeah, we've had a rough time of it these past few months," Ron said.

"I heard about what happened to your team," Terry said. "I can't imagine what you went through."

"We tried to see you at St. Mungo's, but they said you were at death's door and only immediate family would be allowed in," John said. "I'm glad to see they were mistaken."

Ron's gaze moved to Harry.

Reading the question in those familiar blue eyes, Harry gave a cautious nod. He didn't want to advertise what he'd done for Ron, but these two knew that his powers were far more extensive than he normally let on. He hated deceiving friends.

"They weren't mistaken. I'd've snuffed it, if it weren't for Harry here. He used the Sanguinis Philos to save me."

Harry admired how Ron's words suggested that it had been the potion, rather than his freakish powers, that was responsible for the cure.

"That's an amazing potion," John commented. "It saved our father once."

"I wouldn't underestimate Harry's part in it," Terry said. "I'm still firmly convinced that we owe Marcus' recovery to Harry."

Harry's gaze snapped to Terry's serious face as Ron asked, "What do you mean?"

"Marcus was dying. The mediwiz had warned us to prepare ourselves the morning that Harry and his team stopped in to see him. We thought it was his last day with us. We were so grateful that Harry and his friends were granting him his greatest wish. Marcus was so weak when they arrived that he could barely talk."

Even now, Harry could see that tiny form lying in the hospital bed, his skin whiter than the sheets he lay against.

"I remember," John said. "The snidelus had almost consumed him by that point."

"Marcus had snidelus?" Ron's face revealed his shock. "I knew he was sick, but snidelus?"

Snidelus was incurable. Basically, it was a condition in which a wizard or witch's system was incapable of handling their growing power. As their magic grew, it overloaded their nervous systems, eventually killing them. It was a long, agonizing process. Most afflicted wizard children didn't survive past their seventh birthday.

John nodded. "There was no question. It was snidelus. Marcus is the only child in history to have survived it."

"You cured snidelus?" Ron asked Harry in a low tone. He needn't have worried. The pub was so loud around them, it was clear no one was paying them any attention whatsoever.

"I . . . I honestly don't know," Harry said. "When we were talking, Marcus had a seizure. The mediwizs cleared the room. Marcus cried for me to stay, so they let me. He was in so much pain. I took hold of his hand and . . . ."

Thinking back on it now, he realized that he had worked some magic on the child. At the time, he hadn't known what he was doing. All he knew was that when he took Marcus' hand, Marcus' power had felt wrong, blocked somehow so that it turned in on itself, instead of flowing out. By instinct, he'd reached out with his magic and cleared the blocks. At the time, he'd thought he was just transferring his energy to help the dying child hold on a little longer, but now, with the experience he had healing Ron and Severus behind him, he knew he'd done much more than transfer a bit of his power.

"And from that moment on, Marcus started improving," Terry said. "It wasn't an instantaneous recovery. It was weeks before he could walk again, but . . . ."

"He shouldn't have walked at all," John, the Squib doctor, explained.

Realizing that he had to downplay his role in this, Harry said, "I'm really not sure you can credit me with having anything to do with it. I admit that I wished with all my heart that he would be well again, but wishing doesn't cure something like snildelus."

"Harry's right," Ron seconded. "He's strong, but he's no miracle worker. Maybe meeting his favourite quidditch team helped Marcus recover. I know the first time Harry introduced me to the Cannons, I felt like I'd been reborn."

Everyone at the table was aware of Ron's mania for the Cannons and laughed at Ron's heartfelt comment.

Uncomfortable with the conversation, Harry gave Ron's shoulder a pat. "I'm going to check out the action at the bar. Do you want anything?"

Ron gave him another of those strange looks that he'd been giving him the last two days. "You're checking out the action at the bar?"

Ron had never had any problem with his meeting other men on their trips to the Three Broomsticks before. "Er, yeah. Is that a problem?"

He'd known Ronald Weasley for more than fifteen years now. He could tell by his best friend's expression that Ron was sitting on a huge reaction when he answered a little stiffly, "No, I guess life goes on, right?"

Harry opened his mouth to question Ron, but he realized this noisy bar wasn't the right place. And he certainly wasn't going to go into whatever was wrong with John and Terry sitting right there at the table with them. First thing tomorrow morning, he was going to go sit on Ron's bedside and get him and Hermione to tell him what the devil was going on. But until then, he needed to put some space between him and the peculiar looks.

"Right. I'll see you later."

"Sure, Harry," Ron answered, his disapproval almost palpable.

Beginning to think he'd fallen into an alternate universe when he ploughed into that wall the other night, he made his way through the mob to the bar.

It was the usual crowd. He could see Michael talking to a good-looking man at the far end of the overcrowded bar. Catching his eye, Michael gave him a guarded nod before returning his full attention to his new companion, a tall, athletic-looking redhead that Harry thought he might have slept with during his quidditch days.

Harry tried not to dwell on what might have been as he eased through the crowd to place his order. It was impossible not to jostle someone in the press of people, and he found his elbow bumping into a slender man with dark hair that was even messier than his own. Strangely enough, there was a good foot or so of space on the stranger's other side, an absolute anomaly on a night this crowded.

The man he'd bumped into had a handsome, quirky face and ears that were so strongly pointed that Harry seriously thought there might be some elf in his bloodline. The stranger looked out of place, for he was dressed in Muggle jeans and a black leather jacket. More importantly, there was no evidence that the guy was carrying a wand. It wasn't like those tight black jeans left any doubt about that. Harry supposed that the jacket could have a pocket built into it to hold the man's wand, but he didn't see any evidence of that in the close-fitting leather.

"Sorry," Harry said.

Intriguing hazel eyes sparked with amusement as a sleepy American drawl answered, "No problem. Pleased to meet you."

The minute he heard the American accent, he understood why everyone was giving the stranger a wide berth. American Wizarding society was very different from their own. For one thing, since the Salem purges, the births of American wizards weren't kept on record anywhere, as they were here in Great Britain. In the States, wizards weren't even required to send their children to Wizarding schools the way British wizards were. Perhaps because of that, the Americans had a reputation for being reckless and unpredictable. British wizards tended to avoid their American counterparts as a rule, for fear of exposure to the Muggle world. But since Harry hadn't seen any headlines about the exposure of the American Wizarding world on the scandal sheets any of the times he'd been in a London newspaper shop, he supposed they couldn't be that careless.

"You're new here, aren't you?" Harry asked, feeling the stranger's magic ripple around him. When a wizard or witch reached a certain level of power, he or she became physically aware of the potential of others. Harry could feel wizards of Voldemort or Burke's power across a room. He had to be closer to feel Hermione or Severus. This guy was at about Ron's level of power, but there was something strange about his magic. Usually, he sensed another wizard's power in a steady pulse. This man's was intermittent, which made no sense. It felt like it was there one second, strong as could be, but gone the next.

"That obvious, huh?" the man asked with a self-conscious smile to Harry's question about being new.

Harry waited for the inevitable recognition to cross the man's face now that he was close enough to be seen, but the stranger's features remained wonderfully unenlightened, even though Harry knew his lightning bolt scar was showing.

"A bit," Harry said with a smile.

"Can I buy you a beer?" the stranger asked with a boyish charm that was nearly irresistible.

"Sure," Harry said. Offering his hand, he introduced himself. "Harry Potter."

There was still no reaction in the man's face. It was like his name meant nothing to the American.

The guy's handshake was firm. "John. John Shep . . . Shepford."

The last was a lie, Harry automatically noticed, but not all wizards cared for casual paramours to know their true identities. If this were even about that. The guy could just be being friendly.

"Good to meet you, John. Where are you from?" Harry asked, hoping his meagre knowledge of American geography was up to the reply. He knew Washington D.C. and New York were on the Atlantic coast and Los Angeles on the Pacific, but beyond that, everything was a blur.

A hint of irony entered Shepford's attitude as he answered, "From a galaxy far, far away."

Not many people in the Three Broomsticks would have recognized the Muggle reference. Harry did, but even understanding the reference, it was a strange thing to say.

Harry considered himself a fairly good judge of character, and he would have sworn that, despite Shepford's joking attitude, the man wasn't lying to him. It made no sense, but, then, so little had made sense in his life the last few days. Playing along, he asked, "So, did you bring your spaceship or did you apparate in?"

Shepford's expression dropped at his last reference; he seemed nearly confused by the last part of his question. After a moment, he answered, "I took the train, actually."

"Are you here on business or pleasure?" Harry asked, taking a seat on the stool beside Shepford's.

"Vacation, actually," John answered. "I guess you call it 'holiday' here."

From down the bar, the bartender, Mark, called out, "Your usual, Harry?"

"Thanks, Mark," Harry yelled back as Mark levitated a foaming mug over to him. When he turned back to Shepford, he couldn't help but notice the expression on the man's face as he stared at the mug Harry now held in his hands. Lowering his voice, he leaned in towards Shepford and asked, "How did you get in here?"

This was a problem he hadn't encountered before. Muggles weren't supposed to be able to see Hogsmeade. They could get here with a wizard's help, like their Squib friend John Penbroke, but it was clear that this Shepford character had just wandered in on his own. If Shepford had really taken the train, that meant he'd walked through the wall at King's Cross Station to get here. What Muggle could do that?

"What do you mean?" Shepford asked in a casual, relaxed tone. Too casual.

Harry could tell by the man's suddenly intense expression that he was primed for battle. There was still no wand in evidence. Keeping things as calm as possible, he said, "Muggles aren't supposed to be able to penetrate this far into our world."

Shepford's tension was no longer underplayed. He clearly hated having to ask, but he quietly questioned, "Muggles?"

"Non-magical people," Harry explained, the man's ignorance confirming his fears.

"I'm, ah, not exactly a Muggle," Shepford said, his gaze moving with that deceptive casualness to the door. He seemed to realize he'd never make it and turned his full attention back to Harry.

All that boyish charm was gone now and Harry found himself staring into the eyes of a man who would do whatever was necessary to survive. He wondered if Shepford were armed with a Muggle weapon.

"That's a little like not being exactly pregnant," Harry remarked. "Once again, how did you get in here?"

"I've been here before," Shepford said.

"You've never seen anyone levitate a beer, but you've been here before?" Harry didn't even try to conceal his disbelief.

"Well, not in this pub, but in the castle. My dad was stationed in England for a while when I was young. I got a letter inviting me to attend that school in the castle up there near the lake," Shepford claimed.

Once again, Harry didn't sense any lies, but he'd also seen how completely unfamiliar the man was with something as simple as levitation. "You were a student at Hogwarts?"

They looked to be about the same age. If Shepford had attended Hogwarts, Harry would have known the man, no matter what house he was sorted into.

Shepford gave a negative shake of his head. His hair really was even worse than his own, Harry realized. "My mom was something called a Squib, so she knew about all this wizard stuff, though she never spoke of it till we got that letter. My parents thought it might be good for me to have some stability instead of moving around from military base to military base every other year. My mom and me came to check out the school. She didn't like their morals much, so she wouldn't let me go. But I never forgot the day we were there. There was this moving staircase in the school. It was too cool for words."

"What do you mean 'she didn't like their morals'?" Harry questioned, trying not to be offended. But Hogwarts was the only real home he'd ever known.

As if realizing his faux pas, Shepford softly explained, "We sat in on this class where some old lady taught the kids to make live kittens vanish. They never brought them back. It freaked us both out."

"Children have to be taught the dangers of their powers," Harry tried to explain, although, being Muggle-reared himself, once he'd gotten old enough to understand what was happening, he'd had a similar reaction to that particular lesson.

"Maybe," John agreed. "But I don't think Squibs are treated very well by you wizard guys. When she saw what they did to the kittens, my mom said nothing had changed and she wasn't going to have me grow up to be just like them. We got transferred to Germany a few weeks later and the whole wizard thing was never brought up again."

Once again, Harry was reading truth. "So, you're a wizard, but you never went to school?"

The very idea was a little terrifying. Harry remembered some of the spontaneous magic he'd worked at the Dursleys' when young. It was only years of schooling that had taught him, and every other wizard and witch, to think before acting. He could only imagine the trouble Shepford must have gotten into when growing up in the Muggle world with these untrained abilities.

"Not the kind of school where they make things disappear and lift things with their minds," Shepford said with that engaging smile.

"Not with their minds, with their magic," Harry corrected him.

"Whatever."

"So what are you doing here now?" Harry asked, still trying to evaluate how much of a threat this guy was to their world, this guy who claimed to be a completely untrained wizard who lived in a galaxy far, far away.

John shrugged. "I, ah, come back here every now and then when things aren't going too good. It sort of reminds me that there are still some wonders that Man hasn't taken all the mystery and magic out of. I've never been to this town before. Usually, I just hang out in that Victorian street on the other side of that wall in the London bar."

Harry relaxed a little at that. If Shepford had been to Diagon Alley and hadn't revealed its existence, chances were he wasn't a danger. There were thousands of Squibs who knew about the Wizarding World. Shepford wasn't exactly a Squib, but he probably wasn't much more of a threat than they were.

"So, are you going to blow the whistle on me?" Shepford asked, trying out that boyish grin again.

"Not at the moment."

"Thanks," Shepford said, relaxing into a sprawl on the bar stool, which was no easy feat.

Admiring the man's grace, Harry settled back into his own stool. He could feel Shepford evaluating him. "So, what do you do for a living, Harry?" In a lower tone, he asked, "Do wizards even work?"

Harry grinned, beginning to really like this man. "Most do, unless they're wealthy. I teach Defense Against the Dark Arts up at Hogwarts."

"That's the castle school?" Shepford checked.

"Yes. The one without the morals," Harry added.

"Ouch," John said. That ready smile appeared again. "Sorry about that."

"No problem," Harry said.

"Is there much call for defending against dark arts?" Shepford asked in a joking tone.

It was strange to sit here with someone who knew so little about the Wizarding World. Voldemort had been a threat and a part of his life for so long that it was difficult for Harry to remember that most of the people living on this planet had never heard of the man. Deciding to give Shepford a taste of his own evading, he answered, "You'd be surprised." After a moment, he asked, "What about you? What do you do?"

After a moment's consideration, Shepford said, "I'm a pilot."

That, too, felt like the truth.

"You like to fly?" Harry asked, seeing by the spark in Shepford's changeable hazel eyes that they had that in common.

"I live for it. I think anyone who doesn't want to fly is crazy," Shepford said.

"Me, too," Harry agreed with a grin.

"What do you fly?" Shepford questioned, taking a sip of his beer.

"A Firebolt." Harry could see from his companion's expression that Shepford was confused again. "It's a broom. I take it you fly planes?"

"Helicopters mostly, with the occasional experimental model. You really fly on a broom?" Shepford didn't seem able to keep himself from asking.

"It's the closest thing there is to having wings," Harry answered.

"They didn't say anything about flying brooms that day we visited," Shepford complained in a delightfully lugubrious manner.

Harry couldn't help but laugh.

The next hour or so seemed to speed by for Harry as he joked and laughed with this odd stranger. Throughout it all, he couldn't really be certain if Shepford were flirting with him and chatting him up or if he were just being friendly. He'd heard that Americans could seem very forward in that regard, and mistakes could be made, for touches didn't always mean the same thing in another culture. So, he was doing his best to play it cool. The last thing he needed was a scene in his local pub.

It was Shepford who eventually brought the subject out into the open. His voice dropped and a strange nervousness entered his attitude as he softly asked, "So, tell me, Harry. Do wizards ever, um, date other wizards?"

"Some do," Harry replied with equal caution.

"You one of the ones who do?" Shepford asked.

"Yeah. What about you?" Harry replied, wondering if his own smile were anywhere near as sexy as the one Shepford was wearing.

"'I've never dated a wizard before. I'm thinking it could be fun," Shepford said. "One thing you should know, though. I, um, won't be hanging around for long. I'm here on vacation, a couple of days, and then I have to get back to my . . . home."

"That works for me."

"So, do you want to find someplace private?" John asked.

Pleased by how smoothly this was going, Harry said, "I can't really bring anyone back to the school. Do you have a room?"

"At the inn across the street," Shepford said. "They let me change my money there when I arrived. These coins you guys use are . . . sorta neat."

"Good. I'm going to go let my friends know that I'm leaving. I'll meet you outside, okay?" Harry said.

"See you in a few," Shepford agreed, heading towards the door.

For a second as Harry watched that tall, dark clad stranger walk away, an image of an even taller dark haired man dressed in billowing robes flashed into his mind and he was struck with a sudden sense of wrongness. Shaking the uneasiness off, he wended his way through the crowd back to Hermione and Ron's table.

"Oh, there you are," Hermione said with a smile. Both she and Lydia's were at the table with Ron and Lydia's family. "I was beginning to worry. Where have you been all this time?"

"At the bar," Harry said, relieved to see her smile back. Once he'd said hello to Lydia, he continued with, "I just wanted to let you know I met someone and I won't be going back to Hogwarts with you."

"You met someone?" Ron repeated, looking totally shocked.

Uneasy again because Ron had never looked at him like he was committing a crime when he'd picked someone up in the past, Harry asked, "What's wrong?"

"What about Severus?" Ron demanded in a nearly truculent tone.

Hermione's eyes were equally as shocked as Ron's when Harry looked at her.

"What's Severus got to do with this?" Harry asked, losing patience with the bizarre treatment he'd been receiving the last few days. The Forresters and John were watching the exchange with obvious confusion.

"Apparently nothing," Ron answered, his disapproval no longer underplayed.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry demanded.

"Ron," Hermione said, touching Ron's arm, "something's not right here. Let it go."

Ron gave a reluctant nod.

In no way reassured by Ron's glare or the strange way Hermione was watching him, he asked, "What's going on?"

"I don't know, Harry, but I'm going to find out. Go on. Have fun. We'll see you in the morning," Hermione said.

That was more the reaction he was accustomed to receiving. But although she smiled at him, Harry could read the worry right through it.

"Is everything okay with you?" Harry asked, worried himself now.

Hermione nodded. "We're fine, Harry."

"Good night, then. It was great seeing you all," Harry said to Lydia, Terry, and John. He tried to control the feeling of wrongness that was eating at him as he went to meet John Shepford outside.

*~*~*

The Whistling Witch Inn had been around as long as the Three Broomsticks. Although it did have a public room for dining, it wasn't the popular meeting place that Rosmerta's establishment was. The Whistling Witch catered to Hogsmeade's out of town visitors and the townsfolk who might have need to rent a room on a Friday or Saturday night. Harry fell into the latter category.

The rooms weren't fancy, but they were clean and comfortable.

Harry had always liked the place, because no matter how frequently he stayed here, his visits had never ended up in the Prophet the next morning, which wasn't the case in many of the inns he'd frequented while with the Cannons. Jamie, the desk clerk, was refreshingly unbiased when it came to two men sharing a room of a Friday night. Harry could come in here with a different fellow every week, and Jamie would give him the same cheery smile and welcome.

"Hi, Harry," the dark-curled Jamie greeted as Harry and John Shepford entered.

"Hi, Jamie," Harry said, returning the older man's grin.

"Long time no see," Jamie commented.

"It hasn't been that long," Harry protested.

"We haven't seen you since early October," Jamie said. "I remember because I was hanging the Halloween decorations the last time you were in."

Harry remembered that quite clearly. It was one of the last times he'd been in here with Michael before things had gotten serious and he'd started going home to Michael's place.

How could he have not been here in four months? What the hell had he been doing with all his Friday and Saturday nights? Granted, most of January had been devoted to healing Severus and he'd simply not had the energy or been conscious long enough to date. But what the devil had he been doing from October to New Year? Or for the last month, for that matter? He'd been taking things slow since Michael dumped him, but there was slow, and then there was moribund. Harry searched his memory, trying to account for his time. But he couldn't remember a single Friday or Saturday night, not even last week.

"Everything all right with you?" Jamie checked.

Moved by the clerk's concern, Harry gave a nod. "Yes, thanks for asking. How about you?"

"I'm fine. You boys have a good night," Jamie said.

"Thanks," Harry said, moving with John towards the stairs.

"You sure everything's all right?" John asked as they climbed the stairs.

"Why do you ask?" Harry asked.

"Well, you just looked really confused back there. Is something wrong?"

Most of the one-night-stands Harry dated wouldn't have bothered to ask that question when they were on their way to bed. Hell, most of them wouldn't have enquired if Harry had seemed upset when they were actively engaged in bed. There was a certain degree of selfishness to most of these casual encounters that made it hard for him to enjoy them. John was shaping up to be a pleasant change of pace.

"I'm not sure," Harry said.

"Huh?" John questioned, then said, "This is us," as he stopped in front of the door nearest the stairs.

The room they entered was familiar to Harry. Huge bed, blond wood headboard and footboard, walnut nightstands and dresser, everything spotlessly clean and polished to within an inch of its life. The fire in the small hearth was dancing merrily and filling the room with a cosy orange glow.

"You were saying?" John prompted as he closed the door behind them.

"You don't really want to talk about this now, do you?" Harry asked, aware that most guys usually just wanted to get down to business when they were alone in a bedroom.

"Sure, why not? Unless it's too personal," John said.

Harry shook his head no. "It, er, just occurred to me when Jamie asked where I'd been lately, that I had no memory at all of what I've been doing on the weekends the last few months."

"Do you drink?" John asked, a perfectly reasonable question under the circumstances.

Harry gave another negative shake of his head. "Not to excess. I don't do drugs, either. It's just weird."

"Yeah, it sounds sorta scary," John said. "Did you have anything traumatic happen to you lately? I've seen some guys loose their memories after battle or capture."

"Battle? Are you in the military?" Harry asked.

John appeared chagrined with himself as he gave a slow nod. "Air Force. The brass isn't very understanding about the guy on guy thing, if you take my meaning."

Reading John's concern, Harry said. "The guy on guy thing isn't exactly smiled upon here, either. I teach in a highly conservative school. We're both going to have to keep each other's secrets."

John gave him that sexy smile again. "I think I'm gonna enjoy keeping your secrets. But getting back to the amnesia . . . ."

"Amnesia?" It felt weird to actually call it that.

"Well, that's usually what they call missing memories, isn't it?" John asked.

"Yeah, I guess so. It's just hard to think of myself as . . . having amnesia. Especially since I can't remember anything traumatic happening."

John gave a serious sounding, "That's because you have amnesia," that made Harry laugh.

When he calmed, John said, "It isn't really a laughing matter."

"No, I guess not," Harry agreed. "It just feels a little unreal, like something from a Muggle soap opera. You know?"

"I've never had amnesia," John said, "But I've had some weird stuff go down, way weird. So, yeah, I do sorta understand." After a silent moment, John asked, "Do you want to take a rain check on tonight?"

Harry's gaze strayed to the neatly made bed, and then back to the handsome man who was watching him with open concern. The worry made up his mind. He didn't have a clue as to why he couldn't remember what he'd done with his spare time in the last few months, and that bothered the hell out of him, but he couldn't remember the last time a casual paramour had been this considerate with him, either. He wasn't going to blow the chance to get to know a man like John better. Whatever the problem with his memory, it would be there in the morning.

"I know it sounds weird, but, no. I'd like to stay if you're still interested," Harry said.

"Why wouldn't I be?" John asked with that same boyish charm that had hooked Harry in the bar.

Harry smiled and said, "Amnesia really isn't most guys' idea of a hot date."

"Their loss," John said as he stepped closer.

John was taller than him by at least three inches, but as Harry looked up at him as the man stepped into his personal space, he was once again struck by a sense of something not being right. It made no sense, but his body seemed to think that John should be even taller than he was.

"I, ah, should warn you," John said. "I'm a little rusty. It's been a while."

"Apparently, for me, too," Harry said with a smile.

John's chuckle made him glad he'd made the joke, for John seemed far more relaxed as he asked, "Do you like to kiss?"

"Yeah, love it," Harry answered. The meeting of their lips blasted any lingering sense of wrongness from his mind. John's mouth was sweet and responsive. He opened to him at the first swipe of his tongue.

The hunger in John's kiss and the eager way his hands roved over Harry's back told him just how long it had been for John. The guy was considerate, but beneath the surface cool, he sensed an almost ravenous need.

That was more than fine with him. Harry couldn't remember the last time there had been this much fun and laughter in a first time encounter.

Their clothes hit the floor piece by piece. John proved to have a wonderfully masculine chest with thick hair. Like Harry himself, his new companion seemed to really enjoy having his nipples sucked and played with.

In no time at all, they were flat on the bed, locked in what seemed to be an endless kiss. After a long period of eager foreplay, John lifted his head from the kiss to ask, "How do you want to do this?"

This was where problems usually arose. Wanting to avoid the whole 'who's on top' discussion, Harry questioned, "69 work for you?"

John's instant grin told him he'd made the right choice.

Shifting around in the bed, Harry targeted that long, rosy circumcised cock. Most wizards weren't cut, so it was a sexy change of pace. Harry couldn't hold back a gasp as John tentatively familiarized himself with his own foreskin.

"This is so cool," John said, his tongue moving to trace where Harry's glans was poking out of the foreskin.

Cool wasn't the adjective Harry would have chosen to describe the sensations thundering through him at the moment, but he appreciated the compliment. Lowering his head to absorb that impressive, streamlined shaft, he did his best to blast all higher thought processes from John's mind.

They came almost simultaneously. Like himself, John seemed to enjoy swallowing. Harry understood the need, but it was always a bit disappointing when a lover spat him out.

Their heads pillowed on each other's thighs, they lay there trying to catch their breath for a long time afterwards.

John broke the silence with a contented, "That was pretty amazing."

Liking how open John was, Harry smiled and said, "Sure was. You up for another round?"

John's chuckle filled the room. "Thanks for the compliment, but I'll need a few minutes."

Harry shifted around, and did his best to take John's breath away with a kiss.

He spent a long time exploring John's slender body. John had a strange set of scars on his neck. They didn't look like knife or bullet wounds. In fact, they looked more like a hickey or a vampire bite, only the marks were too far apart to have been made by human teeth or any animal he knew.

John tensed as Harry's fingers played over the scars.

Sensing how reluctant John was to talk about them, Harry simply kissed them and moved on. He discovered a definite bullet wound on John's upper left arm, and a number of other less identifiable marks elsewhere. John had obviously seen some heavy fighting in his day.

It was odd to see someone his own age with so many scars. Most wizards healed their wounds magically, leaving no trace of them behind. It was only dark curses that left marks, like the lightning bolt on his forehead.

Realizing how much pain these hurts must have caused John and how long it must have taken them to heal without magic, Harry took his time, kissing and licking each one of them.

Harry's tongue tip was tracing what looked like a knife wound on John's thigh when John laid a hand in his messy hair and said, "That feels incredible."

"Not as incredible as you taste," Harry replied, looking up to meet those hazel eyes.

He heard John gulp and then those wiry arms were pulling him up into another kiss that was a hell of a lot more tender than anything Harry had experienced in a one night stand.

Harry settled on top of John's warm, slender body. Their genitals nestled snugly together as they kissed, adding a whole level of delight to the joining of their mouths.

Harry gave an experimental hump to see what would happen. John moaned into the kiss, then his hands settled on his arse to encourage more humping.

This wasn't at all like what he was used to. John didn't treat him like a stranger he'd picked up in a bar. Harry couldn't remember ever doing it face to face like this with a casual pickup. Most of the men he'd been with didn't even like to kiss. This was . . . really nice.

They only broke the kiss when the passion flared to unmanageable levels. Harry felt like he was melting as they came in a sticky mess between their pressed bellies.

John cuddled him through the aftermath, stroking his back and sharing lazy kisses.

As that wonderful lassitude started to fade, Harry waited for John to stop stroking him, dreading the freeze up that usually came when the passion was spent. But John just kept rubbing his back like he was in no hurry for him to leave.

Finally, Harry's confusion forced him to ask, "Do you want me to clear out?"

John gave an actual start. "Huh?"

"I'm going to fall asleep if I don't start moving soon," Harry said.

Considering that they'd just had their mouths on each other's cocks a few minutes ago, John seemed strangely bashful as he said, "I, ah, suck at the one night stand thing. Do whatever you feel comfortable doing, Harry."

"Do you want me to spend the night?" Harry questioned.

"Only if you want to," John said, a caution in his attitude that hadn't been there before.

Realizing that he'd messed up, Harry said, "I'm sorry. I just didn't want to overstay my welcome."

John ran a hand through the dark hair that was standing up vertical over his forehead in an unruly mess that eclipsed even Harry's hair. John seemed to study him for a long moment before finally saying in a totally tentative tone, "The whole 'go your separate ways like you never touched' routine never worked for me. That's why I hardly ever do this anymore. The sex is usually wonderful, but things get pretty weird afterwards. I hate that part."

"Me, too," Harry said.

"So why don't we skip it?" John suggested.

"What?" Harry wasn't sure what John was saying.

"My plane doesn't leave Heathrow until Sunday afternoon. I know it's not really cool to admit it, but I had a great time tonight and I'd like to spend some more time with you. What do you think?"

Holding that nervous gaze, Harry swallowed around a tight throat and said, "That I'm going to be wishing you didn't live in a galaxy far, far away by Sunday."

John nodded. "Yeah, that could be a problem. I wasn't expecting to meet someone like you."

"Me, either." Knowing that he was playing with fire here, Harry threw caution to the wind and answered, "Let's worry about that when Sunday gets here, okay? Till then, let's just enjoy the time together."

"Sounds like a plan," John said, settling back down against the pillows.

Shivering as the sweat of sex dried on his skin, Harry silently levitated the duvet over them. It was only as he saw John's wide eyes that he remembered that his companion had lived his life entirely in the Muggle world and wasn't accustomed to even simple levitation. It was a nice change. Most of his other lovers would have been giving him the same look because he'd performed the magic without wand or word.

"That's a pretty neat trick," John admired. "Is it hard to learn?"

"No. Most first years can do it." Harry could see how interested John was. He couldn't imagine what it would be like to know you might be able to work magic, but not have had the training to do so. "I could show you how, if you'd like."

"Really? You'd be willing to do that?"

"Yeah. You'll need a wand, though," Harry said.

"Oh." John looked crestfallen.

"We could get one in Diagon Alley tomorrow, if you're really interested," Harry offered. "I could even teach you to fly."

"On a broom?"

"It's the only way to do it," Harry said with a smile, knowing he'd caught the pilot's heart.

"Can I get a broom when we get the wand?"

"I've got a spare you can use," Harry said.

"Wow. That would be totally cool," John said.

"This time of the year, it will be totally freezing," Harry warned.

John chuckled and cuddled around him. "I'll warm you up afterwards."

Harry giggled as John's lips latched playfully onto his neck.

Thinking that he already liked this man way too much, Harry reached out to draw John even closer.

*~*~*

Magic had a way of happening when you least expected it. Waking up next to John and making playful love felt almost like he was under some kind of spell to Harry. That the spell didn't break when they got up, dressed, had breakfast, and flooed to Diagon Alley to buy John's wand was fairly unique in his experience. He was so used to other wizards getting scared off by his freaky powers by morning light. The fact that all magic was new to John made him oblivious to the things about Harry that usually frightened other wizards.

But beyond his unfamiliarity with magic, John was really something special. For the first time ever, Harry didn't have to deal with all the baggage of being the Boy Who Lived. To John, he was just Harry, and that was a wonderful feeling.

Still, for all that they had great chemistry in and out of the sack, something was off. On the surface, John Shepford appeared to be an easy-going, open person, but after a few hours of chatting as they walked through the Diagon Alley shops, Harry realized that the real John Shepford was buried so deep that there was little chance of his finding him in the few days John said he'd be here. But he intended to enjoy those days to the fullest.

Harry looked over to where John was riding his old Firebolt beside him as they soared over the Forbidden Forest. The winds had died down some. The clouds had rolled back in, threatening rain, but so far, it had held off, even though it was cold enough to freeze a fire dragon's balls.

Teaching John to fly had been one of those impulsive acts that usually ended in disaster, but so far, everything had been wonderful. John was a natural at flying. His magic was powerful, if mostly untapped.

"This is great!" John shouted out to him.

Harry watched with a smile and a close eye as John did a loop de loop. His new lover sat his broom like a seasoned quidditch player.

"Is that the school you teach in over there?" John shouted, pointing towards the castle.

Harry knew John knew Hogwarts by sight, if not name. Hearing the real question John was asking, he called back, "Yeah. You want to see it?"

Seeing John's dark head with its shock of messy hair nod and catching the flash of a grin, Harry turned his broom towards the castle.

It wasn't a quidditch day, so the stands were empty. Since no one was practicing in the sky above the field, he led John over that way. So far, John hadn't had any trouble controlling his flight, but he didn't want his new friend to crash into any of the castle spires.

Once he was sure John was okay handling the winds that whipped up out of the castle's courtyards like updrafts out of a canyon, Harry took him on the grand tour. Seeing Hogwarts from a broom on a frigid February morning wasn't quite as impressive as seeing it as a first year coming in on a boat at night when the castle was lit up like something out of a Muggle movie, but it still held a beauty that touched his heart.

After circling the school a few times, Harry headed them over towards the lake. It was still early, so there weren't many people stirring. He didn't fancy having to introduce a casual lover to any of his students. The precocious little monsters already gossiped about him far more than he was comfortable with.

Harry grinned as he caught sight of a tall figure in dark billowing robes standing on the windy lakeshore. He swooped down, with John close on his brush.

"Severus!" Harry greeted as he landed beside his co-worker on the slushy lake bank. John touched down as gracefully behind him as if he'd been flying for years.

Severus' robes were billowing like a pirate ship's black sails in the wind. There were still dark circles beneath his eyes. He looked like he hadn't slept in weeks.

Something quivered in Harry's stomach as he looked up at Severus' familiar, strong-boned face. He looked like a figure in a Muggle romance novel as he stood alone in the wind against the grey and brown winter-locked shore.

"Hello," Severus said, his gaze moving questioningly to Harry's companion.

"Oh, I forgot my manners. Severus, this is John Shepford. John, Severus Snape," Harry introduced. "Severus teaches Potions at Hogwarts. John is a pilot from a galaxy far, far away."

"Is he really?" Severus replied. Although his tone was mild, Harry caught something incongruous that looked almost like pain in Severus' gaze.

"So he says," Harry answered. So far, Severus was the only person in his immediate circle of the people he considered his family who hadn't been treating him strangely the last few days. He hoped that wasn't about to change.

"Pleased to meet you," John said, offering his hand.

After what felt like a tense pause, Severus accepted John's hand.

Once the formalities were dispensed with, Severus stepped back from them.

The silence that descended felt damned awkward.

Finally, Severus broke it with a strained sounding, "Have you known each other long?"

"We just met in the pub last night," John said. "Harry's teaching me to fly."

"What?" Severus had the reaction any wizard would to that information.

"John never went to Wizarding school," Harry explained.

"How extraordinary," Severus said.

Looking over to John, Harry grinned and warned him, "You mightn't want to go announcing that to too many wizards. Telling someone I'm teaching you to fly is rather on the same scale of telling people that I'm coaching you at potty training."

John and he both broke into laughter.

When they calmed, Harry smiled up at Severus. "Well, I saw you down here and just wanted to check in and see how everything was going. Are you feeling all right?"

Severus nodded.

"Should we try for the Three Broomsticks on Monday night?" Harry asked, thinking that Severus was looking terribly rough.

"If you wish," Severus agreed.

"Great," Harry said. "Are you sure everything's all right?"

"Perfectly," Severus said in a tone that made it plain he wanted the subject closed. "What about you? Are you . . . enjoying the weekend?" Severus' gaze strayed John's way. When he looked back at Harry, the pain was no longer underplayed in his gaze. It was right there in the open for anyone to see.

"Yes, it's been great so far." Harry couldn't keep his gaze from straying John's way. He'd discovered quite early last night that John looked utterly adorable when he blushed. At the moment, he was a charming shade of pink straight up to the tips of his pointy ears.

"I'm pleased for you," Severus said.

For some reason, Harry got the feeling that it had been hard for Severus to say that. Once again, there was a serious, inexplicable undercurrent to his interaction with a good friend.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Harry checked again.

"I'm fine. I'm returning to the lab now. Enjoy your day," Severus said.

"Well, ah, I guess we'll be pushing off then," Harry said. "I'll see you at the teachers' table tomorrow."

"Good to meet you, Severus," John said as they lifted off from the ground.

Harry didn't understand the feeling that twisted through him as he watched Severus' figure grow smaller and smaller as he and John ascended. It felt strangely like loss.

*~*~*

This was what he'd wanted, Severus told himself as he watched Harry and his companion soar higher and higher into the clouds like a pair of mating eagles. He'd known the minute Harry was free of him, he'd meet someone more suitable. Harry's young man was bright and handsome, filled with laughter, just like Harry himself. That was the sort of man he should be with, not tainted goods.

But it was hard to see Harry happy with someone else. Everything in him had screamed Mine! when he saw Harry with that good looking American. But for once in his miserable life, he wasn't going to be selfish. He was going to think of what Harry needed.

Harry and his new lover were no larger than flies to his naked eye as Severus watched them disappear into the grey-clouded, western horizon over the Forbidden Forest.

Suppressing a sigh, Severus finally turned back towards the castle.

It was for the best. Harry would be happy, while he . . . well, he would have to settle for knowing that Harry was happy. That would have to be enough.

Severus had hardly been back in his quarters for ten minutes when there was a knock on the door to the main corridor. That was the door Harry usually used.

Setting down the tea he'd just prepared, he moved to answer the door. He didn't get many visitors. Well, none at all since he'd broken it off with Harry.

Surprised, he stared down into Hermione Weasley's brown eyes. She'd visited him and Harry down here once or twice during happier days, but always by invitation. It was barely 10:30 a.m., hardly a proper hour for a social call.

"Hi, Severus," she nervously greeted him.

"Good morning," Severus returned.

"May I speak to you? It's rather important," Hermione asked, straightening her light blue robes with a nervous-looking tug.

"Of course. Come in," he stepped aside to allow her to enter. "Would you care for some tea?"

"Please," she said, sounding ridiculously relieved.

She took a seat on the couch while he moved to the side table where the teapot sat. After transfiguring a quill into another tea mug, he poured her a cup, added the dab of the milk he knew she preferred, and then returned to where she sat.

"Thank you," she said, accepting the mug. After a sip, she asked the question that usually started most of their interactions, "How are you feeling today?"

Watching Harry fly out of his life with his new lover had hurt worse than anything Burke had done to him. Finding the strength from somewhere, he lied, "Well enough." Recalling the manners he'd been working on since he'd started being included in Harry's circle, he asked, "And yourself?"

"Confused, actually, very confused," Hermione said.

He didn't like the way she was watching him. Knowing the question that an innocent man would voice, Severus asked, "About?"

"Have you noticed anything strange about Harry's behaviour these last few days?" she asked.

"As you know, our relationship has altered. I haven't been spending that much time with him," Severus said.

"Yes, I know," she said.

"What is it you find strange about Potter's behaviour?" Severus asked.

Hermione shifted on the couch and took another sip of her tea. "Well, ever since Thursday morning, Harry has been acting as if your break up never happened."

"Perhaps he's gotten over it," Severus suggested.

"He went from being devastated to carefree overnight," Hermione said.

"It has been several weeks," Severus pointed out. "Does it not make sense that he would be . . . improving after so long?"

"You're not understanding me. Harry is behaving as if the break up never happened. In fact, he is acting as if he was never deeply involved with you at all."

"Perhaps that is how he wishes to handle it, as if it never happened," Severus said. "Isn't that how most people get over romantic disappointments?"

"He met someone while we were at the Three Broomsticks last night," Hermione said. "He genuinely didn't understand why Ron asked 'What about Severus?' when Harry told us he wasn't coming home last night."

He was startled that Ron would have said something like that to Harry. Ronald Weasley had been extremely generous with his time visiting him while he was in the infirmary, but Severus had assumed that that had been Hermione's doing.

"That is strange," Severus agreed, using every bit of his acting talent.

"I was just wondering if you might have some idea what was going on?" Hermione asked.

"Shouldn't you be asking Potter that question?" Severus said.

"I don't want to do anything that might upset him, not if he's really feeling better. But, it's like he doesn't remember at all, Severus," she said. "It's a little frightening."

"There are means of removing and blocking painful memories," Severus said. "Perhaps he chose to employ one of those."

"He would have told me," she insisted. "Besides, Harry would never do something like that. You were the best thing that ever happened to him. He was hoping you'd change your mind in time. Harry would never just . . . obliterate you from his memories."

Not willingly, Severus acknowledged, recalling how hard Harry's mind had fought him that night in the quidditch pitch. Touched by what she'd said about his being the best thing to happen to Harry, he experienced a sudden surge of guilt for being so deceptive with her. This was getting more and more complicated by the moment.

How had he ever believed that altering Harry's memories was a good idea? When he'd given into that insane impulse, he'd somehow convinced himself that once Harry was happily involved with someone new, he wouldn't be too upset if he found out what Severus had done to him. But he'd forgotten how tangled Harry's life was with those of his best friends. Abruptly, he recognized that when the truth came out, Harry wasn't the only one who would be after his blood.

"Is it not preferable that he be happy, whatever the cause?" Severus questioned at last.

"I suppose," she agreed. "It's just so strange."

"Yes."

"Well, I just hoped that maybe you'd have some insight on what was going on."

"Nothing that would be helpful at this point, I'm afraid," Severus said. The only thing that would help now was a time turner, and Severus knew for a fact that the only one in Hogwarts had been destroyed after Sirius Black's escape more than a decade ago.

"Did you hear what Collins got up to in Transfiguration class Friday afternoon?" Hermione asked. She seemed to be making a visible effort to change the subject and shake off her worry.

He gave a negative shake of his head and settled back to listen to her tale. He still found it strange to engage in 'small talk' with others. For so many years, he'd been so isolated that it was hard to respond to these topics that had no relevance to his life. One thing he knew, however. He would miss Hermione's visits when she removed herself from his life.

*~*~*

The door of the dungeon prison slammed shut.

Barely able to move for the pain in his back, Harry lay face down on the filthy, mouldering straw in a growing pool of his own blood. They were going to kill him this time. There was no way he could survive another encounter with either that whip or the Cruciatus. The next time that door opened, his life would be all but over.

All too soon, the door squealed open.

Holding himself together by a very thin thread, Harry looked back over his bleeding shoulder.

Shocked, he stared up into Severus' worried, stark-featured face.

"I hope you're not planning on making a habit of this, Potter," his rescuer said in a cultured drawl that belied the fear in his dark eyes.

Then Severus was crossing the room and kneeling beside him. After turning him onto his side, Severus pulled out his ebony wand, muttered a spell, and within seconds, Harry felt the whiplashes on his shoulders and back close up as his other scrapes and bruises healed.

Rolling over onto his healed back, Harry looked up into that harsh face and whispered, "Thanks."

Severus reached out to brush away a stray bit of straw that was dangling from Harry's hair into his eyes. His long, warm hand cupped Harry's cheek, and then that dark head lowered to take his mouth in a breath-taking kiss.

One kiss, turned into two, and two into twenty as they lost themselves in each other. Harry reached out to undo Severus' robes. Jacket, shirt, trousers, and the rest followed as he efficiently stripped his lover down. Moments later, Severus was laying on top of them, with Harry pressing down hard against him.

Severus felt incredible under him. That hard warmth felt like home to him.

The way Severus was looking up at him awed him. It went way beyond mere sexual desire. This wasn't just lust, not just convenience . . . it was nearly worship.

Severus moved under him. Their bodies slid together as if they'd done this a thousand times.

Harry eased into Severus' tight, slick channel. Every nerve in his body spiked at how exquisite that slow glide felt. The rhythm was waiting for him. His hips moved by instinct, finding that hidden spot deep inside Severus that was wired to his lover's pleasure centre.

The shocked cry Severus emitted told him he'd hit home. Making sure he made contact with that point every time he entered him, Harry began to thrust in earnest. Spiralling higher and higher, they rocked together, each thrust bringing them that much closer to heaven.

All too soon, Harry came deep inside his lover, then Severus groaned with pleasure as his body froze. Harry was vaguely aware of Severus' seed bathing his belly and chest as he shuddered in helpless orgasm.

Severus and he were still locked together, kissing on the prison cell floor when the image started to fade . . . .

Harry awoke with a start, staring wildly around the room, trying to figure out where the hell he was and what was going on. There was no canopy overhead, neither green nor blue. Why he expected to see a green canopy was confusing, because he'd never had anything but blue velvet curtains after school, but for some reason, he was expecting the bedding to be green.

Harry relaxed as he recognized John Shepford's room at the Whistling Witch Inn.

"You okay?" a sleepy voice enquired from beside him. John was a light sleeper and had apparently been woken up by his sudden movement.

"I . . . yeah, I'm fine," Harry said. "Sorry to wake you."

"No problem. Bad dream?" John asked.

"Weird one," Harry said.

"You sure you're all right?" John checked.

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Go back to sleep."

"Okay. Let me know if you wanna . . . you know," John said, snuggling back into his pillow.

Harry smiled because the man was already asleep again. He watched that dark head turn on the stark white pillowcase. He remembered carding his fingers through long, dark hair in his dream, but it hadn't been John's hair. It had been Severus'.

What a weird dream! It had started out looking like it would be one of his usual night terrors, but then it had taken an abrupt turn in the opposite direction. He'd had erotic dreams about people he worked with once in a while in the past, but nothing like that, and certainly not about Severus. Every aspect of it had felt so real, from that first passionate kiss to that long, slow loving. Who would have thought Severus Snape could kiss like that, he thought with a smile.

Realizing that it wasn't exactly proper for him to be having erotic fantasies about a friend who'd recently been brutally raped, his smile faltered. Well, it wasn't like he'd crafted the dream to order. His subconscious had just spewed it out like it had every other dream in his life. But, even though he'd had no control over it, he found he couldn't stop thinking about the scene his subconscious had just offered up.

Dreams were supposed to mean something. Did this dream mean he secretly desired Severus? The idea was simply too absurd to contemplate. Severus and him? And yet . . . .

Unable to stop himself, Harry went over the details. The only dreams that had ever been that realistic had been his night terrors, but they never ended well. Thinking about it, he realized that tonight's dream had followed the exact pattern his night terrors had, until the point where Severus had shown up and made love to him. That was where the entire feel of the dream had changed.

What had Severus been doing in the middle of one of his nightmares?

Well, it was just a dream. Avoiding the wet spot on the sheet beside his left hip, Harry settled back under the covers. He closed his eyes, his mind still puzzling over Severus' disturbingly erotic presence in what should have been a horrible nightmare.

On the verge of sleep, he swore he heard Severus' voice saying, I wouldn't presume to insert myself into . . . so permanent a situation. If in the future you were to grow disenchanted with my charms, you would no doubt find it unpleasant for me to be so deeply embedded in your erotic dreams.

His eyes snapped open again. Severus' voice had sounded like the man was in the bed with him. Now he was having aural hallucinations to accompany his bizarre erotic dreams?

Taking a deep breath, Harry tried to forget the whole thing, but once again, his mind was having none of it. As soon as he closed his eyes, another conversation seemed to play through his head, only this time his own voice was part of it.

You must have used a spell to replace Voldemort's. How did you word your changes? Harry heard himself ask.

Severus' voice answered, I changed the scene, saying that the man you loved, the man you trusted more than any other, would enter the cell, heal you, and make passionate love to you.

There you have it, then, Harry heard himself say in an oddly contented tone.

What? Severus replied.

You know, for such a bright fellow, you can be pretty dense at times, Harry heard himself complain.

Your point is? Severus didn't quite snap.

The subconscious doesn't lie. How could I trust some fantasy you made up more than you? The man I trust more than any is the one who's been sharing my bed these last two months. That's you, Severus.

Sharing his bed? For two months? Few of his relationships lasted longer than a weekend. Even his connection with John was doomed to end tomorrow when his lover flew back to the States.

Okay, this was getting weird. The conversation playing through his head didn't feel like something he was making up. It felt like a memory. But . . . The man I trust more than any is the one who's been sharing my bed these last two months. That's you, Severus.

How could that be a memory? How could . . . .

Harry pushed at that conversation, trying to force more detail. Instead of a conversation, an image flashed through his mind. It looked like the Forbidden Forest. It was summer or maybe spring, for everything was green and blooming, and there were thousands of big black bugs blundering around the place. Severus stood in the centre of that image, set against a background of forest below an orange and magenta sunset. As he watched Severus' oddly sensual and intense face, Severus leaned in closer and closer . . . until those slender lips brushed his own.

What the hell? Was he cracking up? Did he have some kind of perverse hard-on for Severus hidden in his subconscious?

That didn't feel right. The conversation and the unnerving image he'd just seen; they once again felt more like memory than fantasy. But how could that be? How could he be remembering having sex with someone he was merely friends with?

Concentrating all his will on that image of the forest, Harry tried to push for more . . . only, he banged up against the mental equivalent of a stone wall. He followed the conversation he'd remembered back to the same obstruction. He could almost feel the hotbed of memories and feelings seething on the other side of that wall. As he poked at the barrier, it became clear that someone had cut off a considerable portion of his memories.

It at least explained why he had no memory of what he'd done on the weekends for the last few months. Someone had messed with his mind.

Who? How? Scared now, because that kind of manipulation was rarely benevolent, Harry took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. Merlin alone knew what was hiding behind that wall.

Gathering his power, he pushed at the obstruction. It took a surprising level of energy to topple it, which told him that whoever had created the mental block, had been considerably powerful.

Harry gasped as the roadblock in his mind crumbled and a million conflicting thoughts and emotions tumbled into his being. For a horrible moment, he teetered on the edge of insanity, as two dual sets of realities tried to cohabitate in the same part of his mind. But then those blocked off memories slid into their proper place like a foot into a custom-made boot, and he knew exactly what had happened.

SEVERUS.

The name shrieked through his being. His love and an equally sharp sense of betrayal roared through him. He remembered everything, from their first kiss in the Forbidden Forest in early November to the night he'd begged Severus to remove the memory that made it impossible for them to be together.

Severus hadn't simply removed that memory. He'd walled off their entire affair. The skill it had taken to accomplish that feat was amazing, for Severus had had to pick and choose what he isolated. The fact that he would actually do it was even more unbelievable.

He'd trusted Severus with everything he was, and Severus had . . . . How could he? Who could do that to someone who loved them?

The hottest fury he'd ever experienced blazed through him as Harry slid from the bed.

"Harry?" John's sleepy voice called while Harry was donning his clothes. "What's going on?"

Harry looked over at the sleepy man in the bed he'd just vacated and froze. He couldn't just storm out on John without an explanation. None of this was John's fault.

"I'm sorry. I have to get back to Hogwarts," Harry said.

"What's happened?"

About to say 'nothing', Harry took a deep breath. John deserved the truth. The man had been a good friend to him, no matter how short their acquaintance. But, how to explain any of this to a Muggle-reared wizard who knew nothing of simple magic, let alone such arcane arts as Legilimency and Occlumency?

Trying to keep it simple, Harry said, "That dream I had . . . it shook me up. I need to get back to the school to -"

"Make sure someone's all right?" John suggested, his eyes filled with compassion instead of the irritation Harry would have fully understood.

"Something like that," Harry agreed. "I'm really sorry about all this."

"No problem. I've had a few nightmares like that myself," John said, sitting up to watch him dress. When Harry was fully clothed, John asked in a quiet voice, "Will I see you again?"

Harry sighed. This was far more complicated than he liked his life to be. But none of it was John's fault. The man had been good to him. He couldn't just breeze out on him like so many of his own lovers had done to him. "Yes. I'll be back in the morning to take you to the airport like we planned. Once again, I'm -"

"Sorry. I get it. Go on. I'll see you tomorrow," John said, lying back in the bed.

"Thanks," Harry said, softly slipping from the room.

He made his way down the creaky old stairs to the inn's common room as quietly as possible. The Whistling Witch was on the floo network. He was so angry that he would have apparated straight to Severus' chambers, only he was reluctant to make a habit of forcing Hogwarts' wards, unless it was a life or death crisis.

Despite the unholy hour, there was still a small fire flickering in the hearth. Harry took down the jar of floo powder that sat on the mantle, clearly enunciated, "Severus Snape's chambers, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizarding, Scotland," and stepped into the resulting flare of green fire.

It was after two on a Sunday morning. Severus normally would have been in bed for hours by now, but since his abduction, he'd been sleeping as irregularly as Harry used to before Severus fixed his dreams.

Harry wasn't even surprised to find the man in his sitting room when he stepped out of Severus' hearth.

Severus was fully dressed, including his robes. He was sitting in the wingback chair nearest the hearth, just staring into the flames. He blinked as Harry materialized.

"You son of a bitch!" Harry shouted as he took in those unsurprised features. It was clear from Severus' expression that he knew exactly why he was here. "How could you?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?" Severus employed the sarcasm that was as much a part of his character as his dark, stringy hair.

"Don't!" Harry warned. "Don't you dare joke about this! I trusted you with everything I was and you . . . you . . . ."

"Betrayed that trust," Severus said in such a calm tone that Harry thought he might actually blast the man with a curse. "I did warn you from the start that it was unwise to trust a Slytherin."

"Don't you dare try to bring house politics into this. This has to do with you and me. You bastard! How could you do this to me?" Harry demanded, staring at that chalky white face, trying to understand why Severus would have done this. He was so furious, he could barely think. The only person he could ever remember being angrier at in his life was Burke when he'd seen what the fiend had done to Severus.

"You did tell me to remove anything that disturbed me," Severus reminded. He was no longer using his sarcastic tone. Instead, he was watching him closely, as if waiting for a major explosion.

The reminder of how much he'd trusted this sick bastard drove him right over the edge.

Harry was moving before he even realized what he was doing. His hand bunching in the front of Severus' robes and jacket, he hauled Severus out of his chair. Vaguely, he was aware of several of the buttons on Severus' jacket popping off and falling to the floor as he shoved Severus up against the wall beside the hearth.

Due to their disparity in heights, trying to intimidate Severus this way wasn't as effective as it would have been with someone shorter than him, for Harry had to look up to meet Severus' eyes.

The move hadn't exactly been planned out. Now that Harry was here pressing his front against Severus to hold him pinned to the wall, he hadn't a clue as to what he was going to do. His fury was unmanageable. He wanted to strike out, to hurt as he'd been hurt. But he didn't dare vent this wildfire blazing through him.

They stared at each other in the sudden silence, the only sound that of their laboured breathing, and the shifting of air currents as Harry's anger-fuelled magic seethed around them, searching for a target.

Harry's nerves were stretched to the breaking. He didn't know what he wanted from Severus now. It felt like Severus had killed everything that had ever been between them. He couldn't have felt more betrayed if Ron had sold him to Voldemort for money when they were in school.

Severus' features were pinched and strained.

Harry was intensely aware of the fact that Severus made no attempt to throw him off either physically or magically.

"Go on," Severus urged. "Finish it."

Finish it?

The request snapped some sense into him. What the hell was he doing?

Harry couldn't believe that he'd lost control so badly, gone this far. What's more, it was clear that Severus really thought he was going to . . . hurt him. Not that it was an unreasonable assumption, he realized. Pushing Severus up against the wall like this hadn't been the most reassuring of actions, but there had been no denying the rage rushing through him. This had been a damn sight safer than using a magical outlet. Right now, he honestly didn't trust himself.

How many times had they ended up against a wall just like this, Harry thought, struck by the travesty this was of those happier times. Abruptly disgusted with them both, he unclenched his hands from Severus' now wrinkled and ripped jacket and stepped away.

Severus staggered when the support Harry was inadvertently giving him was removed, and then righted himself to ramrod stiffness.

"Don't you have anything to say for yourself?" Harry demanded, trying to figure out what was going through Severus' mind that he'd do something like this.

"What can be said?" Severus answered.

"Why did you do this? Why would you just . . . take away everything we had?" Harry tried to keep his voice level. Shouting wasn't going to help anything. Right now he needed answers to defuse this fury thundering through him.

"It was better for all involved," Severus said after a long pause. "It gave me the space I needed . . . and you were happy, weren't you?"

"Happy? I was fucking brainwashed," Harry didn't quite shout.

"But it proved my point. The minute you were a free agent, you were able to make a healthy connection with another -"

"A healthy connection?" Is that what Severus called one night stands? Well, John might have turned out to be more than that if he'd hung around, but he didn't seem the type for settling down. And even if he had, it hadn't been Severus' right to make that kind of decision for him. "You took away my memories! It wasn't healthy. It was oblivious. And who the hell are you to make that kind of decision for me, anyway? I had a right to mourn what I'd lost, but you . . . you stole it all from me."

"Yes, I did," Severus said. "And for the first time since January, you were happy."

There was absolutely no remorse or guilt in Severus' expression or tone.

"Happy? You fucked with my brain! If you think that's happy . . . you're crazy." Harry stared into those dark, intense eyes.

"That's entirely possible," Severus replied in that same controlled tone.

He might have handled this better if Severus seemed upset or distraught, but he appeared stone, cold sober at the moment. Not knowing what more he could say, he ran a hand through the wreck of his hair and warned, "You need to stay away from me for a while. Far away."

"As you wish," Severus replied, as if it meant absolutely nothing to him that they were over for good.

And for all Harry knew, that just might be the case. Maybe Severus was relieved to get him out of his hair.

Feeling whatever hope he'd retained that they could work through this shatter, Harry gave a stiff nod, turned on his heel, and left. He had no idea where he was going at 2:52 on a Sunday morning. All he knew was that he had to get away, far away.

*~*~*

 

 
 

 

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